In The Beginning…
Looking way back to 2007—now almost 15 years ago– local housing leaders had begun to surface concerns about the lack of a centralized affordable housing advocacy organization in the South Bay, one that worked 365 days a year, 24-7, to tackle the high cost of housing, the significant shortage of affordable housing, and rising concerns about quality of life. While the Affordable Housing Network (AHN) had been around for years, it was made up mostly of dedicated and passionate volunteers. They had some great successes, including creation of San Jose’s Housing Department in 1988 and the push to focus on the region’s most vulnerable residents. But the AHN members were getting older, and because they were volunteers they were not always aware of what was happening throughout the County. Opportunities were lost.
Small group dinners hosted by Shiloh Ballard, then with the Silicon Valley Leadership Group (SVLG), brought together people from different organizations and backgrounds to talk about this reality and to think through how local leaders might approach housing advocacy in a more coordinated and sustained way. In the meantime, a ragtag group of advocates banded together to win important policy fights, including a hard-won fight to create San Jose’s Inclusionary Housing Ordinance, creation of the San Jose’s first Housing Impact Fee, and approval of boomerang funds (leftover RDA dollars) in several cities throughout the county. This group was effective, but it could only do so much as a volunteer effort and its focus was largely on San Jose.
Most of the attendees at the dinners agreed that a new organization was needed. After all, there were housing advocacy groups in other parts of the Bay—like the Housing Leadership Council of San Mateo County (HLC) and the East Bay Housing Organizations (EBHO). However, with the housing recession that followed, and then the collapse of redevelopment, the attention of many participants was focused elsewhere for several years.
Time to Act…
In late 2013, once these challenges had passed (though the wounds were still fresh), the effort started up once more. Kevin Zwick, then the CEO of Housing Trust Silicon Valley, sought and was awarded grant funding to hire a consultant to help explore the potential for a new South Bay focused housing nonprofit. He asked leaders from two other Silicon Valley-based housing and policy organizations to join him in working on this efforts– Shiloh and Dianne Spaulding, then the Executive Director of the Non Profit Housing Association of Northern California (NPH). The group was soon joined by Leslye Corsiglia (as an individual and not representing an employer). With funding from the Silicon Valley Community Foundation and Enterprise Community Partners, this small group of leaders hired Kathy Thibodeaux and began the process of engaging stakeholders to consider a more formal, consistent, and full-time effort.
Kathy pulled together an exploratory committee, held visioning workshops, conducted focus groups and benchmark interviews, and participated along with the Steering Committee to gather feedback and develop a plan of action.
Key findings about the gaps in the system were highlighted, including:
- There was no consistent voice focused on affordable housing that ensured it was at the top of mind for elected leaders and the members of the public.
- There was a need to include and activate new voices in the fight for more affordable homes rather than depending on a small group of “usual suspects.”
- The advocacy focus should also be at the “grass tops,” creating coalitions with local organizations that touch affordable housing, in addition to grassroots efforts.
- There wasn’t consistent messaging to highlight the housing challenges and needed solutions.
- There was a lack of consistent data-gathering and information exchange.
- There was not consistent representation with regional, state, and federal advocacy to ensure Santa Clara County’s interests were addressed.
- Housers were not able to focus on the many housing issues being considered throughout the county and were losing key battles.
At the end of the year-long process, there was near universal agreement that a new membership-based advocacy organization was needed to address these gaps and create a common agenda for the preservation and increased supply of affordable housing for lower-income households.
Three tiers of advocacy were proposed:
- Direct work on project, policy, and funding opportunities that create more affordable housing
- Supportive work on land use policy, projects, and funding measures to create housing opportunities for the broader population
- Supportive work on issues related to tenant rights and homelessness
This new organization would strive to be a respected voice– the “go to” group on affordable housing in Santa Clara County.
The Plan Starts to Form….
In January of 2015, the Steering Committee made the decision to move forward with an organization, but not until three years of funding were committed and potential board members had been approached and agreed to serve. By this time, the funding for the consultant contract had run out, but Kathy had become such an important collaborator and partner that she stayed on and volunteered her time as a member of the Steering Committee to get the organization off the ground. It had become a labor of love.
After consideration of the recommendations from the Exploratory Committee, the Steering Committee made these decisions:
- Create a new, independent 501 (c)(3) nonprofit membership-based organization to formalize and manage a comprehensive affordable housing advocacy agenda throughout Santa Clara County and its 15 cities.
- While a membership organization, the new 501 (c)(3) would not have members within the meaning of Nonprofit Corporation Law, and its Board of Directors would have sole voting rights.
- At the beginning, the new organization would launch under the fiscal sponsorship of the Housing Trust Silicon Valley, which would provide office space and administrative back-office operations and with the understanding that the new organization would work to gain its independence.
- The focus of the organization would initially be to advocate for the preservation of and production of affordable housing. As it grew, the organization could begin supporting efforts to address land use advocacy and the full range of other housing issues and would lend support but not lead issues around homelessness and tenant protections. Additionally, it was determined that it would be the consistent voice of Santa Clara County to the statewide network advocating for state and federal housing action.
- The organization would have a broader base than other regional partners, focusing on the housing needs of those without any income (the homeless), to those on fixed incomes, to those who work in our service sector, or our manufacturing sector, to those who work for our leading employers. Additionally, it was agreed that SV@Home membership would be broader and include both nonprofit and for-profit housing developers, local government, nonprofit community partners, business and tech sector companies, and members of the community.
The core assets of the organization were identified as: direct advocacy, ability to mobilize community voices, creating and providing data and information to the network of supporters, a diverse membership base, and a network of partner organizations. And initial goals included:
- Replace 100% of the funding lost when redevelopment funding ended– $64 million per year for new affordable homes.
- Become the central source of information and opportunities for advocacy around housing in Santa Clara County
- Become the convener of organizations and individuals to advocate for more affordable housing policies and funding.
The initial budget envisioned revenues in the $400,000 to $500,000 range for the first three years.
The Silicon Valley Community Foundation played a key role at this point, hosting a convening of potential funders on February 9, 2015 who stood up in support of the new organization and pledged monies to get it started. Key participants who agreed to support the new organization included: Felix Au Yeung (EAH Housing), Matt Franklin (MidPen Housing), Lyn Hikada and Brad Wiblin (BRIDGE), Janice Jensen (Habitat for Humanity East Bay/Silicon Valley), Lisa Joyner (U.S. Bank), Linda Mandolini (Eden Housing), Gail Mohr (Bank of America), Craig Robinson (Silicon Valley Bank), and Davis White (Google).
After the convening, the Steering Committee went to work, using these commitments to get others to come forward in support and lining up board members.
The Committee approached 17 people and asked them to join the new organization. Of the 17, 16 said yes without hesitation. The membership of the initial board reflected the desire to bring together people with different perspectives and experience, from business and market rate developer representatives, to equity and labor organization leaders, to nonprofit developers and funders.
The goals of raising the funds and seating a board had been met. Now it was time to execute the plan.
SV@Home is Born….
Leslye suggested the name SV@Home (or Silicon Valley at Home), which was agreed to by the Steering Committee along with the tagline, the Voice for Housing in Silicon Valley. SVLG’s graphic artist designed the new logo.
While not expecting to take on the role (and frankly thinking that Shiloh was the likely choice), Leslye talked to Kevin about stepping in as the first Executive Director when Shiloh took on a new role leading the Silicon Valley Bicycle Coalition.
Work commenced on planning a launch event, which took place on June 25, 2015 at MidPen Housing’s Fair Oaks Plaza in Sunnyvale. The new SV@Home Leadership Board, an impressive group of community leaders, met for the first time that day and as one of its first actions appointed Leslye as the new Executive Director. On July 8th, SV@Home opened its doors working out of an office in the Housing Trust Silicon Valley, which served as the fiscal sponsor. On November 23, 2016, SV@Home became an independent 501 (c)(3) organization. On December 1, 2018, the SV@Home Action Fund, a 501(c)(4) organization was incorporated.
The First Days…
The initial team included Pilar Lorenzana (the Policy Director) and Gina Lee (the Operations Manager). The team of three, along with Senior Fellow Tom MacRostie and an intern, set up shop in a 300 square foot space in the Housing Trust building. (If you look closely at the December 2015 picture you can see the framework for SV@ Home’s website on the white board!)
Dogs were an integral part of the team in its early days, with as many as six in attendance on any given day.
The team now has its own home in a Little Italy Victorian in San Jose and has grown to 12 positions.
A Few Highlights of the First Years…
Most all of the initial outcomes envisioned by the Exploratory and Steering Committees were achieved in the first few years. Here are just a few of the policy highlights:
- In 2016, SV@Home was on the team that brought Measure A over the goal line in Santa Clara County, making $950 million available for affordable housing.
- In 2017, SV@Home coordinated the campaign that led to a unanimous vote of support for Mountain View’s North Bayshore Plan, with 9,850 new homes and 20% affordability, doubling the number of affordable homes in the city.
- In 2018, cities throughout the county adopted Commercial Linkage Fees (CLF) and updated their inclusionary ordinances. The outlier, San Jose, finally approved a CLF in the summer of 2020 after years of advocacy.
- In 2019, the SV@Home Action Fund, a 501(c)(4) nonprofit, began its work to engage in electoral and ballot measure advocacy. In 2020, The SV@Home Action Fund ran its first campaign—Measure E—which was passed by the voters and will create significant new funding for affordable homes in San Jose.
- And, in 2020 after several years of work, SV@Home successfully advocated for up to 15,000 homes in the Diridon Station Planning Area, a 6-fold increase in what had been previously planned.
Shortly after it began implementing its policy and advocacy agenda, SV@Home staff realized the importance of focusing on the foundation—education, information, data, messaging, and growing the houser base. Here are a few foundation-building highlights from the first years.
- In 2016, SV@Home staff organized and hosted its first Affordable Housing Week, with 24 events and more than 900 participants. Five years later, in 2021, Affordable Housing Month had 59 events with more than 4,000 attendees. In addition to Affordable Housing Month, SV@Home organizes regular events and roundtables to provide opportunities for education and engagement.
- In 2017, SV@Home’s launched a comprehensive website that includes information about housing in all Santa Clara County cities as well as policies and housing topics. The website is a repository of information for community members, elected leaders and staff, and other housing organizations.
- In 2019, SV@Home launched CoHo, the Coalition of Housers, bringing together young professionals and emerging leaders in the South Bay and providing them with opportunities for leadership, engagement, and collaboration with peers and housing sector experts.
On of September 1, 2021, Leslye stepped down as the Executive Director and handed the reins of the organization to Regina Celestin Williams, a dedicated houser. SV@ Home is excited to welcome a new leader and to see what the next chapter of the organization will bring!
SV@Home is the voice for affordable housing in the Silicon Valley. A membership organization, SV@Home advocates for policies, programs, land use, and funding that lead to an increased supply of affordable housing. Additionally, SV@Home educates elected officials and the community about the need for housing, and the link between housing and other quality of life outcomes, including education, health, transportation, and the environment.
 When Dianne retired from NPH in January of 2015, Amie Fishman, incoming Executive Director, and Michael Lane, NPH’s Policy Director, stepped in and joined the Steering Committee.